Nigeria’s Secret: Suya Spice

I didn’t appreciate the nostalgic memories the ingredients which make up Suya Spice conjured  up for Nigerian’s living in diaspora, that is until this weekend at the door step of my home.

Suya (sooya) is West Africa’s shish kebab with a dry rub of nuts and spices. It is believed that Suya originated with the Hausa people (located in Northern Nigeria), nevertheless it’s popularity has spread and is now a visible part of Nigeria’s large towns and cities thanks to the many street vendors who work the grills till way into the night.

Suya is usually made with lean cuts of beef, however now that the spice has come into its own, it has been used to liven up roast potatoes and marinade chicken or fish for example.

So let’s breakdown some of the unique ingredients:

Kuli Kuli (peanut stick)

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The peanut flavour of Suya comes in the form of a fried ground peanut paste known popularly as ‘Kuli Kuli’ (see picture). When crushed, the kuli kuli  or peanut sticks turns into a smooth powder or peanut flour. In essence, kuli kuli is a peanut powder obtained through the extraction of oil from crushed peanuts. The nut powder is made into round peanut balls and then fried. Once cooled the nut balls are once again crushed to make the suya spice. If you are lucky enough, you will be able to get your hands on some kuli kuli from your local African market (mine were purchased in Ridley Market, Hackney).

If you can’t get your hands on any  then crush some roasted salted peanuts in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. A word of caution – you are NOT making peanut butter! I’m being very serious – try not to over process it into a peanut paste. If this happens, simply place the nuts into a tea towel and then press by placing a heavy chopping board or cast iron pot on top to ease the oil out. If that attempt fails, then be satisfied with Suya paste rather than powder which works just as well if you are using other fresh ingredients (such as onion, ginger and garlic). The trouble is it won’t last as long as the powder.

Negro Black Pepper (Udo) aka ‘SpiderLegs’

What do you call this spice in your language? I’m told it’s known as Uda in Igbo, Eeru in Yoruba and Chimba in Hausa. I prefer the nostalgic name ‘Spiderleg’ as used by my friend Alicia (who owns the Ghanaian Street Food Stall Chalé! (she serves very tasty Ghanian cuisine cooked by her very own hands every Sunday, Chatsworth Market, Hackney).

Now to get my hands on some ‘Spiderlegs’. In London. Right now. I had set myself up for the challenge, there were to be no substitutions, I mean after hearing so much about it, what could really replace the unique woody smell and peppery taste of the Uda pod? It put the ‘spice’ in Suya?! So I was told. I had to find out. It HAD to be somewhere in London with such a large Nigerian community, somebody’s Auntie had it. So I sent out a message on twitter, sounding like a right old novice:

“Can anyone help? I’m looking for these two ingredients: Kuli Kuli and Uda/ Negro Black Pepper”

Literally without exaggeration within 30 minutes, I was contacted by AfroExpress (a London based company that makes home deliveries of African groceries) with pictures of the said items they had sourced. Before 4pm the same day they were at my door with the ingredients! I couldn’t believe it! I burst the packet of ‘spiderlegs’ open (ok that sounds gross but stick with me) and the smell hit me: smoky, woody, dark, peppery pods. Then I opened the bottle of Kuli Kuli: intense nutty aroma. At last! The final pieces of the puzzle were now in place, it was time to assemble the spice blend:

 

INGREDIENTS

5 tbsp crushed Kuli Kuli (or crushed roasted peanuts)
5 tbsp ginger powder*
2 tbsp cayenne pepper flakes
10 strands of African Negro Pepper or Uda
2 tbsp garlic powder*
1 tbsp Smokey Paprika powder
2 tbsp onion powder*
1 small stock cube
1 tsp whole cloves
1 tsp salt

*If making a paste, substitute the powder for the fresh ingredients, using the same measurements

METHOD:

1. Start by crushing the Kuli Kuli in the spice grinder. Once you have a coarse powder, add the remaining ingredients, one by one. It might help to slice open the uda pods to help the breaking down process. If making a paste, follow the same process, in which case a food processor would be more appropriate.

2. The powder can be stored in a airtight container for up to 3 weeks, the Suya paste, no more than 2 days I would say.

Check back later where I will be sharing my version of Suya Popcorn Chicken!

 

Swedish Cardamom Buns

 

If your first thoughts were: “this looks complicated”, then think again. Because once you read through the step by step guide below, you will be tying knots (albeit the dough kind) like a sailor. They are so much fun to make!

This recipe reminds me of the brioche loaves I made last year because of the light buttery texture of the bread. These buns take less than half the time it takes to make brioche and has a lot more flavour: I brought them into the office the next day and before I got back to my seat they were all gone!

Not all recipes use egg but I find adding it here helps give the dough a soft, cakey like texture that you expect from a cinnamon roll. I love the generous use of cardamom, one of my favourite spices. It was back breaking having to grind it by hand in a mortar and pestle; very few places sell the seeds grounded. Be generous with the spice measurements, about 1/4 of it will melt away in the baking process anyway.

And yes I have to admit I played around with the recipe – I added orange rind, nutmeg and almond essence to the mix. This is all optional.

Bon appetit!

 

Swedish Cardamom Buns

INGREDIENTS

CARDAMOM DOUGH

  • 1 cup + 1 Tbsp. (250 ml) milk, lukewarm temprature
  • 1 envelope dry active yeast (7 g)
  • 1 1/2 tsp almond essence
  • 1/3 cup (67 g) light brown sugar
  • 3 1/4 cup (406 g) all-purpose flour, plus more to flour surfaces
  • 1 tsp. ground cardamom seeds
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 5 Tbsp. (75 g) butter (at room temperature)
  • Oil/cooking spray (to grease bowl)

 

CARDAMOM FILLING

  • 4-5 Tbsp. (about 63 g) unsalted butter (at room temperature)
  • 1/3 cup (65 g) dark brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp. ground cardamom seeds
  • 3 tbsp cinnamon powder
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 3 tbsp freshly grated orange rind
  • 1 tsp almond essence

 

CARDAMOM GLAZE

  • 1 egg – whisked

 

CARDAMOM DOUGH

  1. Pre-grease/oil a large bowl and set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, add yeast to the lukewarm milk with 1 tsp. light brown sugar and stir until yeast has dissolved. Let activate for 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, grind/crush cardamom seeds with spice grinder or mortar and pestle. In the bowl of your stand mixer, fitted with whisk attachment, mix together flour, light brown sugar (less 1 tsp.), cardamom, and salt.
  4. Change the attachment to the dough hook attachment.
  5. After yeast has been activated, add almond essence to your yeast/milk mixture, then add to the flour mixture and mix on low until dough begins to come together. Increase speed to medium-low and add cubed butter in handfuls. Once all the butter has been added, increase speed to medium/medium-high and knead for about 5 minutes. You want this to be a fairly loose dough, so whatever you do, don’t over knead.
  6. Scrape dough out onto a lightly floured surface and shape it into a bun, tucking the edges toward the centre.  Place in your greased bowl, seam side down and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Place bowl in a warm place and let it rise for at least 40 minutes.

 

CARDAMOM FILLING

  1. In the bowl combine butter, dark brown sugar, and freshly ground/crushed cardamom seeds and the remaining spices until creamy and smooth.

 

FORMING

  1. Line baking sheets with baking paper.
  2. Roll out dough into a 13” x 21” rectangle on a lightly floured surface.
  3. Spread filling onto the rolled out dough rectangle with a spatula so that it covers the entire area from edge to edge.

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  1. Mark 7″ sections on the 21″ side with the back of a knife so that you have three equal sections. Fold left side to the middle, than fold the right side over the left side. Turn the dough so that the openings are on the left and right sides and roll out the dough slightly.

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  1. Using your ruler and sharp knife or pastry wheel, cut 2 cm strands. You should have 15-20 strands.

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  1. Starting from the end, wrap one strand around the tips of your thumb and four fingers (three if you have big hands) twice, twisting slightly as you wrap, then slip your thumb out of the roll, loop the strand around one last time then tuck the end and your thumb loop into the bottom. If you’re having trouble, please re-watch this link. Repeat with all strands.
  2. Place buns on your pre-lined baking sheets, (giving enough room for dough to rise and spread during proofing and baking), cover with a kitchen towel and let rise for about 30 minutes.

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  1. While proofing, preheat oven to 435°F (at least 30 minutes before baking)

 

BAKE

  1. Brush the surface of each bun with the whisked egg
  2. Bake proofed rolls for 7-8 minutes or until tops are golden brown
  1. When they have cooled down completely, you add a dollop of orange infused cream cheese, (a mixure of orange peel, juice, icing sugar and cream cheese) to each bun.
  2. Serve and enjoy!!

 

Berbere Spice: a blend of Ethiopia

Berbere, which means “hot” in Amharic, is an Ethiopian spice blend very common to Ethiopian cooking. Most of the heat comes from the fiery long red finger of dried chillies buried under heaps of other amazing spices.

Berbere is treated very much like an ‘all purpose’ seasoning, so it can be added to stews, vegetables, meat, fish and probably even rice as well.

As I carried out my research to find the most authentic blend, I soon realised, whichever combination I found, it would pretty much empty out my whole kitchen cupboard! I think I turned over every jar, bottle and cup that had spices in them. It actually felt good to use them again, some like fenugreek had barely been touched; and I was getting tired of the same old 1-2-3 combinations I’ve been falling back on for yonks (haven’t used that word in ages?!).

Doesn’t it look amazing! And it tastes absolutely delicious! You’ve basically cut your seasoning time down to less than a minute!

Ok let’s take a closer look:

  • Salt
  • Cinnamon
  • Cloves
  • Cardamom
  • Smoked Paprika
  • Coriander Seeds
  • Ginger
  • Fenugreek Powder
  • Pimento Seeds
  • Onion Salt
  • Nutmeg
  • Chilli Flakes

Other recipes include garlic powder and black pepper.

Preparation

This really depends on you. I wanted something I could store in a jar and use whenever to spice up a dish. So I resorted to using powders with the following exceptions: fresh garlic, ginger, onion. Only because I’m use to adding these ingredients to a dish anyway.

So here are the measurements for a jar of berbere spice, most dishes only require 2 1/2 teaspoons of it:

  • 2 teaspoons Fenugreek powder
  • 2 teaspoon Black pepper
  • 2 teaspoon Cloves
  • 3 teaspoons of red chilli flakes
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 2 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 3 Tablespoons smoked paprika
  • 1 Tablespoon garlic salt
  • 2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

 

METHOD
Combine all the ingredients into a mortar and pestle and grind together until thoroughly mixed. If you can’t get your hands on any ground cardamom, then I’m sorry (as I did), you’ll have to grind it by hand. I find adding a pinch of rock salt to the mix helps to grind the seeds faster!

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When you are ready to use the berbere spice, treat it like you would a curry powder: you have to dry roast / fry it on a low heat first to release the flavours before pouring on your liquid. Be careful not to burn the spice as all you’ll have is a gritty mess. I have a recipe coming up using this very spice…so peep back later!